Friday, August 31, 2007

Shabbat Higiyah!

It is now Erev Shabbat. I was really looking forward to a nice QUIET Shabbat, but I am a little nervous too. We have not seen most of our friends and shulmates for most of the summer. This is actually very usual for us since we go upstate every Shabbat in the summer. And this past summer was NUTTY!

We began the summer with going to Israel during the last week of June for two weeks. We went to see our brand new granddaughter, Chaya Leah. She is the first one! And, she is SO cute.

Here are some pictures of her:

We also took care of her while her mommy went back to school to finish out for the year and take her finals. While we were there, I made Shabbat both Shabbatot we were there, and made a kiddush for al ltheir friends. Also, while we were there, Chloe announced her engagement to Jonathan -- and so we made an engagement party for them as well. So, while it was a nice visit, it was certainly not a relaxing visit. At one point I was supremely annoyed: the floor in their apt was filthy so Barry took it upon himself to clean it. He actually was down on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor. And Gedaliah just sat there watching him. That made my blood boil! He should have, at the very least, been helping him!

Anyway, after 2 weeks there, we returned to the States. A half a week later, my brother and his family (5 kids) descended from LA. Then, a week after that Chloe came. Then, a half a week after that, my sister and her family (4 kids) arrived from Israel. Chloe's new in-laws to be were also here in the States. We decided to make a kiddush in honor of the engagement and I had everyone over by me for that Shabbat: four of our girls, a couple of their friends, my parents, Chloe's in laws to be and three of their kids, Joel and his family, Phyllis and her family, and friends of ours, the Cottrells. Then, the Sunday following that Shabbat we made the 5oth Anniv party for my parents, and had about 100 people there. After the party, people began to leave. In the midst of all this, though it was discovered that one of my sisters kids had head lice. And so I had to do laundry, strip the beds, spray everything, do head checks, comb outs, etc. -- and I certainly did not need all this extra work at this time. First my brother and his family left, and then Phyllis and her family left and then Zahava left to go to Israel for her Shana B'Aretz. Then, Tzippy and Gedaliah came in with the baby and they were here for 2 weeks. Chloe left a week and a half after they came here. Now, they are also gone and Rivky left for Johns Hopkins this morning. The only one left is Devorah. And I expect things to settle down now.

Have to go light candles.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

R & R, Goodbyes

This past Shabbat was the most relaxing Shabbat I have had in months. We went up to the mountains, just Barry and me. Initially, during the week, planning for the weekend I was a little bit sad, hurt, and even angry. I was upset because we had not had the opportunity to really have Tzippy and Gedaliah over to our house. Oh, yes, they SLEPT here for two nights, but that was it. The first night they went out to dinner with a friend of Gedaliah's and the second night they went to Sheva Brachot -- which just happened to be held at Tzippy's mom's house (and ostensibly, it was a "kids only" Sheva Brachot, so we had not been invited). When Talia heard (from Chloe) that I was feeling "left out" she invited us but I declined because I felt funny about it. Anyway, this past Shabbat Tzippy and Gedaliah were with Naomi and David. They did spend the prior Shabbat with us, but it was up in the mountains and thats really being with Barry's parents. Additionally, Gedaliah's mom and grandma and sis in law stayed by Naomi as well. And, furthermore, I heard that Peggy and Art Cottrell had been invited for Shabbat lunch. I kind of thought that Naomi should have at the very least asked us if we would like to join them for dessert, after lunch. She did not do that and I toyed with the idea of pushing it on her. But then, I realized that Barry did not really want that so we decided to forget about that and simply go upstate.

The biggest plus to going upstate was that his sister Karen and her family would be there too and we would thus be able to finally meet little Rena Bracha, the newest addition to our family. She is so tiny and so cute. I love holding her. I love holding Chaya Leah also, which I did as much as I could this afternoon.

At the bungalow colony, it was VERY HOT and HUMID on Shabbat. I spent almost the whole day just sitting in a lounge chair, in the shade of a tree, reading, napping, schmoozing, and only getting up when I needed a drink or to use the bathroom. I did not walk around, or be social, except with my own family. I read a whole book, cover to cover: "Sons of Fortune" by Jeffrey Archer. It is a novel about twin brothers who are separated at birth, and what happens over the course of their lives and how they intersect. It was very well written and kept me "on the edge of my seat". I highly recommend it. When Shabbat was over we watched a movie, "The Prestige". This too, was an excellent and interesting film. It is the story of two magicians and their rivalry with one another. I recommend this as well.

We left early this morning to get home with enough time to prepare a BBQ buffet for everyone: Tzippy and Gedaliah and Chaya, Karen and co., Naomi and David, Devorah and Ethan, and Rivky. We served hotdogs, hamburgers, wings, and even turkey steaks. All supplemented by salsa, chips, guacamole, a large selection of condiments, corn on the cob, baked beans, sauerkraut, and veggie kabobs. Gedaliah was def appreciative, since he does not get this much nor this good meat in Israel. It is either too expensive or simply not available.

A good time was had by all.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Ok, so now, about the dance thing. I love to dance. I have ALWAYS loved to dance. Even though I am HOH and use HA's, I have always been able to pick out a beat and move my body to it. So, as young child I recognized that. And so I asked my mom to allow me to take dance lessons. Response? I was given a Baton and sent to learn to twirl a baton. Ugh. (Although that would be the closest I would ever come to dance lessons...). Again, I continued to ask for dance lessons. Response? I was given a violin and sent for violin lessons. Ugh #2. Again, I continued to ask for dance lessons. Response? My parents bought an old upright piano and brought in some old geezer to give me piano lessons. Ugh #3. (It was nuts, I mean, I can pick up the beat but I cannot for the life of me pick out notes!!!). Again, I continued to ask for dance lessons. Response? My parents bought me a cheap guitar and had it re-strung so I could learn to play it left handedly, and sent me for lessons at some weirdo's house. Ugh #4. (I still couldn't pick out notes so forget playing by ear!!!) But I could dance.

When I was in HS, a teacher of mine, who had a daughter my age, opened up a folk dancing "club" as an after school activity. I joined it and I LOVED it -- and then I turned my ankle hard and thus was unable to complete the year out in the club -- and then it fell apart. I also remember having attended a few school dances, and being surrounded by all the black kids who wanted to learn my moves. I was a white chick with rhythm!!!

It was not until years later that I was able to claim my dance personality. At age 21, began going to Folk Dance nights in Woodstock. I learned Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Yugoslavian, Israeli dances and I LOVED it. A few years after that I took a class in belly dancing. Then I learned Contra and Square Dancing, and then Swing Dancing (Lindy, Jitterbug, Rockabilly, West Coast Swing and more), then other ballroom dances, and then Cajun and Zydeco Dancing. I also learned a basic Western Two Step. Finally, I began attending West African Dance classes given by Carol Dowd at the Mountain View Studio in Woodstock, NY. I was good at all the dances I attempted. I even gave some performances with other friends of mine who also danced. It was a heady time for me back then. I was so active -- I danced several nights most weeks, worked out at gym a few days a week, went on long, strenuous hikes, swam, and even my job was physically demanding.

Eventually, the activity took its toll on me. It caused my arthritis to flare up at a young age. I had no chance to avoid it -- all my grandparents have it and my father as well. Then, in 1996 I slipped on a freshly waxed floor at my place of employment. There were no warning signs or stanchions, so I did not know the floor was wet with wax. I went flying and landed on my lower back. It took me about a year to "recover" -- but to this day I occasionally feel blips of discomfort or pain in my lower back. Most of that is due to arthritis and damp, cold weather exacerbating it (when I go upstate to the mountains for a weekend).

After my back injury almost all my activity stopped. I was no longer able to do all that I used to and I have never ever gotten back to that level of activity. My arthritis got worse, I got older, and I gained weight. I still love to dance but if I spend one night dancing I will be in pain all the next day (knees and hips, mostly).

So, basically, that's my dance story...

Beit Sefer Tichon

So, I DID say I would write about High School. The problem is, there is not too much to write. I coasted through high school without ever really learning anything. I remained active in my shul youth group. I remained a social outcast.

Ok, a few things.

I became close friends with Rose Blas. Rose was actually two years younger than me, and we would only share one year together in high school at the same time. We became friends, really, because she totally looked up to me. She loved the way I dressed and she wanted to learn from me how to dress well. She also thought I was cool (little did she know) and it was cool simply having a close friend who was 'older'. We used to go shopping together all the time. Shopping is not actually correct...Window Shopping is more like it. We drove the salespeople nuts. We would descend on a store and proceed to try on half the store. And we always left the dressing rooms a mess. This was before big box retailing -- each store was small, locally owned, and security measures to prevent shoplifting had not yet changed the face of retailing.

She and I also attended TLS together. TLS stands for Torah Leadership Seminar. These were usually 3-4 day seminars, over Shabbat, organized and run by Yeshiva University. TLS was designed to introduce non-relgious young Jews to religious Judaism and Shabbat. In truth, they were brainwashing sessions: we were kept up and got little to no sleep, we were kept in a state of hyperactivity -- roused to "spiritual excitement" with constant singing and emotional stories, etc., fed awful food so we barely ate -- all the while being bombarded with how wonderful it is to be religious and to keep Kosher and to keep Shabbat. Well -- it worked. Many students who attended these TLS events, are today, religious Jews. (A sort of outgrowth of this type of kiruv [outreach] has been the establishment of the organization NJOP -- National Jewish Outreach Program.)

I remember, I had already attended one TLS event and loved it and had convinced Rose that she would also enjoy it. She asked her parents if she could go and her father, who ran a little dictatorship in his household said no. I think his main objection was the cost. So, she asked me to convince him. So, I, at age 15, was to convince a grown man, a father and businessman, to allow his 13 year old daughter to attend TLS with me, and to spend about $118 dollars in doing so. I went to her house to speak with him. His main objection (at least what he told me) was that he did not believe that we wanted to go to TLS because we wanted to learn about our Jewish heritage. He believed that the real reason we wanted to go was because there were cute boys there -- and we were boy crazy! My response? "Ok, so, what if that is true? What if the real reason we want to go is because there are cute boys there? At least they are Jewish. We will be meeting and socializing with Jewish boys. Isn't that preferable to meeting and socializing with non - Jewish boys?" * He told me he liked my "shpiel" (sales pitch)-- and he let Rose attend TLS with me.

I also sort of introduced dance to Rose. In truth, Rose had always been a dancer. She had taken ballet lessons, tap dance lessons, and Jazz lessons. I had never taken any of those lessons (more about that in another entry). But I had a good feel for rhythm and in my last year of HS would go to disco's and dance clubs with a friend of mine, Lou Kogon. He taught me how to hustle and I loved it. Then, toward the end of my last year in HS, which would also be my last year in USY, we had a "senior" USY dance for all the outgoing members. I invited Rose to attend and also my friend Lou, who was a year older and had been an outgoing member in the prior year. Well, the band started up and Lou and I took to the floor. Now, bear in mind, I was still a social outcast, in spite of being active in the group and on the board of the group. No one at this event had ever seen me dance. When Lou and I began dancing, everyone else stopped. We were that good. We danced three dances like that. At the end of the third dance, we stopped and all of a sudden I was mobbed! Rose especially was entranced and said that she had no idea I could dance like that. Rose and I and Lou left the dance after that. Later, my mother (who had been there as a chaperone and witnessed the whole thing) would tell me how great it was and that everyone was watching me with their mouths open -- they could not believe that this person who was the social outcast, who could not hear, could dance like that. And when I left, I left them all with this amazing picture in their mind of me and who I was -- that they would never forget! It was great for me!

Rose and I remained close friends throughout most of my high school years. In my last year of high school, I began to change a bit, and Rose also knew that I would be leaving for Israel after HS -- and we began pulling away from each other a bit. We were still friends, but we shared less than we had in the past.

After I left HS, and went to Israel, Rose sort of picked up where I left off. She became friends with Carlos Roncancio. He was also a dancer and she and Carlos began going to disco's and dance clubs. This was against her father's wishes. One night she and Carlos were to compete in a dance contest at one of the clubs. She snuck out of the house, and went to the club with Carlos and his sister Anna. They danced in the contest and they won. In the meantime, her parents discovered her missing and her sister, JoEllen told them where she was. So, they called the club, and asked that they hold her there. However, the club realized that they were underage and instead simply warned Rose and Carlos and Anna that Rose's parents were on their way over. So they left the club. Rose's parents went to the club but it took a really long time to get there due to a terrible car accident that had occurred. They passed the accident on the way there. Of course, when they got to the club, Rose and her friends wee gone. So, they went home, passing this accident again. Upon returning home they learned the horrible news that Rose and her boyfriends sistter Anna, had been killed in a car accident -- the very same one which they had twice passed.

I was in Israel during all this and had no idea of any of this. My parents were afraid to tell me, lest I demand to come home for the funeral -- and they really could not afford that. So, they did not tell me. I learned later, that hundreds of people attended Rose's funeral. The driver who killed her and Anna, had been drunk, the son of a well respected local doctor. He did no jail time, nor were any major fines levied. This was in 1979, long before DWI became treated as a real crime.

A week after Rose's funeral, her father went into the hospital for some routine surgery, I think something to do with a hernia. My mother went to visit him and she could see that he was depressed. He said he was worried about the surgery but my mother who knew about it explained how it was routine and what they would do and that he would be fine. Sy (that was his name) died on the operating table. My mother was the last non medical person to see him alive.

To this day, I cannot fathom the depths of misery that Mildred, Rose's mother must have felt, to bury her husband one week after having buried a child! How awful that must have been.

When I returned to the States from Israel, about two manths after all this had happened, it took my parents almost two weeks before they sat me down to tell me what had occurred in my absence. I was devastated. It took me several months before I felt I could go see Mildred.

Ok, I am sorry for the maudlin story. Life goes on, and so life went on.

More later...

* A word of explanation to non Jews: This was not considered discrimination or prejudice, at least not in a negative way. For religious and traditional Jews there is a strong desire and established law (for those who follow it) that we are to marry only Jews. Thus, Jewish parents, even those who were not religious back then, want their children to meet other Jewish peers. This pull is not as strong among non religious Jews today as it was back then.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sephard? Ivrit!

Upon entering ninth grade each student had to select a foreign language to learn. Three were offered: Spanish, French, and German. I selected Spanish.

My Spanish teacher was Senor Benedict. He had a very heavy Spanish accent, spoke through his nose, had a raspy voice, and constantly covered his mouth while speaking. Of course, this was definitely not conducive to my learning. As a result, my grades in Spanish class were dismal.

My counselor at school asked my parents to come in for a conference. I remember my counselor: he was very effeminate, and wore an awful hairpiece. I was also present for the conference. The subject of the meeting: my Spanish class grades. My Spanish teacher was also present.

Senor Benedict told my parents that "Shelly does not have a hearing problem -- she just does not pay attention in class nor does she do any studying..." Of course, my parents did not take too kindly to his belittling of my disability. The fact that he covered his mouth and that he mumbled alot was of no consequence according to him!

Anyway, it was finally decided (with my parents not in agreement...) that I could never learn a foreign language and thus the requirement for a foreign language in order to matriculate with a NYS Regents diploma would be waived. And so...I did not learn any foreign language while I was in HS.

Later, several years later, I would spectacularly prove them wrong about me! Keep reading...

I will jump ahead to after I graduated HS and I went to Israel. I will return, later, to my HS years, but for now, this story is too good to leave until later.

After HS, I went to Israel for a year on a program called Hachshara, run by an organization -- Bnei Akiva. It was a program in which we would spend a year on a kibbutz in Israel, learning about Kibbutz life, Israel, and other religious studies as well.

For the first month we were there we stayed at Bar Ilan University and participated in ulpan - and intensive study of the Hebrew language. It was only for one month so I did not progress too much. I then went to stay on Kibbutz Yavne with a large group of other American students. Now, the majority of those students all had much stronger religious education backgrounds than I had -- most had attended either Yeshivot or Hebrew Day Schools. Additionally, they were able to learn the language passively, simply by overhearing. I could not do that -- I had to learn actively and there were no lessons being given on the kibbutz.

Furthermore, I had an idiot for a madrich (counselor). He told me that because I could not hear, I could never be a teacher, I could never do this or do that, etc. Now, my parents had raised me to believe that I could do anything, should I set my mind to do so -- what he was telling me was so completely new and unheard of to me! And I really did not believe him. But I knew I needed to get away from him and that I needed to learn Hebrew.

I learned, through some other students also on the program, who also needed to learn Hebrew, that a new ulpan was starting up at a different Kibbutz, up north in Bet Shean. It was to be at Kibbutz Shluchot, which was also a Dati (religious) Kibbutz. They were going to go there and I decided that I, too, wanted to go. So, I arranged a day off from my work at Kibbutz Yavne, and went into Tel Aviv to the offices of the Jewish Agency and I arranged to also attend this new ulpan on Kibbutz Shluchot. They took the monies that my parents had paid to Bnei Akiva to pay for that.

The next day I called my parents. Now, you have to remember: this was in 1977 -- there was no internet, no email, or instant messaging, and no cell phones. I had to use a pay phone, with ASIMONIM (Israeli phone tokens), and a long distance call back then was VERY expensive. This call would be one of only 4 calls I made overseas in two years!!! Anyway, I called my parents to let them know what I was doing. My mothers' response was funny. She said, " Well, Rachel, I do not know what to tell you to do. You are there and we are here". To which I replied, "I am not asking you what to do, I am telling you this is what I am doing". There was SILENCE on the other end of the line!! And then my mother recovered and wished me the best.

It was the best decision I could have made. I attended that ulpan for nine months. I became and excellent speaker of the Hebrew language. I spoke so well, that I was frequently mistaken for an Israeli, not an American! At the end of the nine months, I returned to Kibbutz Yavne to visit. I spoke with the idiot Madrich. I spoke Hebrew with him, but he kept responding in English. And that bothered me so I asked him to please speak Hebrew with me.

Then, I went back to the States -- for a short visit. I had decided to return to Israel for a Shana Bet (second year). However, while I was back in the States, I went back to my Alma Mater HS...and asked to be allowed to take the four year Hebrew Regents exam. At first I was told I could not, that I should have done that while I was still in HS. I fought that because I explained that my not having learned a foreign language in HS was not my choice-- it was forced on me. So then, they agreed, but said it would be impossible to do it because they had no teachers who spoke Hebrew to administer the exam. I then introduced them to a woman, Tami Bernat. Ms. Bernat happened to be an Israeli, living in Kingston, NY, who was a Hebrew linguist!!! She could administer the exam for me. Then, the school argued that a four year Hebrew exam would be too hard for me as I had only been in Israel for one year and maybe I should just take the two year Hebrew Regents exam. But I said no, I wanted to take the four year Hebrew Regents exam. And so I did. I finished with a grade in the high 90's. Ms. Bernat was so impressed with me -- she said that she could see that I "thought" in Hebrew -- which was absolutely true. And so, in this way, I thumbed my nose at both the idiot counselor I had in ninth grade and the idiot counselor I had on Kibbutz Yavne...Ani M'daberet Ivrit Metsuyenet!!!

Monday, August 13, 2007


Backtrack a bit: to where I discuss speech therapy. There was a key player in this scenario that I forgot to mention: my mother. Apperently, she spent HOURS working with me at home on speech therapy -- speaking, reading, understanding. She tells me that in the beginning, I could not make the connection between the letters and sounds I was learning and reading. She would repeat with me over and over again:
c - a - t , c - a - t , c - a - t , c - a - t , until finally I made the connection between the three sounds of c - a - t , and read it as cat. From then on, she tells me, I read like wildfire. I couldn't, wouldn't stop. I guess that is sort of like the story of Helen Keller when she finally understood that the fingershapes and movements that Annie Sullivan was making was COMMUNICATION.

BTW, I work for American Friends of Shalva, a fundraising office that raises money for Shalva, a non profit organization in Israel that helps disabled children. Shalva came into being due to the story of Yossi.

Ok,, that was just an aside. My story continues...

I remember in second grade was when it began to become apparent that I was not keeping up with my classmates. My parents began having meetings with my teacher to try and understand what the problem was. No one really understood. The fact that I could NOT HEAR was masked by my SEEMINGLY ableness -- I "passed" for hearing, I spoke really well, it was hard for anyone to believe that I really was disabled.

The interesting thing though, is that I was never held back, nor given remedial help, or placed in special classes. Everyone, teachers, and parents, recognized the truth about my intelligence: I was very definitely intelligent. But I did not do particualry well in school -- I was passed from grade to grade because they did not really know what to do with me otherwise. My grades were not POOR, just very middling, and not indicative of my intelligence.

In the meantime my social awkwardness continued. I felt very left out, I hated being teased. I was lumped with the other "rejects" in my school when it came time for recess. And most of those rejects, really had learning problems. Several were retarded (the word we used back then, not learning disabled), or had other deficits that were much more serious than mine -- and NONE of them were my intellectual equal. I HATED being forced to socialize with these kids. I was so superior to them and I knew it and I let them know it.

This is how most of my schooling through elementary school passed. Then I entered Junior High School (grade 7 through 9). Was I ever shocked. I had been quite sheltered, and was very naive. In Jr. High I encountered kids smoking cigarettes for the first time. I encountered kids smoking dope, drinking, and having sex. Some girls got pregnant - -and came to school pregnant! Now kids were outright mean and nasty -- and scary.

It was common for kids to beat one another up. I stayed away from most of this. I did not smoke (anything) or drink or have sex. For one thing, it was something that BAD kids did, and for another no one would have accepted me into their little clique-y groups anyway. I was STILL a reject. Boys made fun of me, girls laughed at me, others ignored me, even teachers were stupid to me. (Wth the exception of all my English teachers, and one really excellent math teacher).

Then, in the summer before I entered ninth grade I discovered CLOTHING, Fashion, Jewelry, Make-Up, Shopping, Fashion magazines. I became a fiend for fashion. I was a real clothes horse, I was skinny and EVERYTHING I put on looked good on me. I got a great haircut and began dressing really nicely for school. It was in this year that the amount of ostracism I felt lessened a bit. It was a BAD lesson. My self esteem now centered around my appearance.

I badgered my parents to buy me this, buy me that, I had to have the latest fashions. I also had expensive taste. It was said that I dressed as if my father OWNED IBM, was not just an employee. I was spoiled. My husband tells me my parents did it out of guilt for my disability. Maybe...I am not so sure.

It was also around this time that I was becoming even more active in my shul's youth group, USY (United Synagogue Youth, a Conservative movement youth group). Even within this group I was ostracized somewhat. But it did not discourage me. I just kept being myself -- needy, greedy, and wearing my heart on my sleeve. (I still do that last bit...).

I was an 'upstart' in the group. For instance, one evening we went out in a group event, roller skating. After the skating, the group went to a pizza place and ordered pizza. The pizza place was not kosher -- there were (and still are) NO kosher establishments in Kingston, NY and surrounding areas. I did not go for pizza. At the next USY meeting I brought this up. Is so happened that the Rabbi of our shul was attending our meeting. I brought it up saying that it was wrong, the charter of USY is the Charter of the Conservative shul and eating in a non Kosher establishment was not accepted, and thus wrong. Or course, I was the ONLY member who felt this way. In fact, I was attacked: after all, I do not keep Kosher at home, how dare I attack this. My response to that was that what I did at home, what I did in my private life has nothing whatsoever to do with what we do as a USY group. The Rabbi backed me up -- he stopped the argument and simply ruled that we cannot eat out in a Kosher establishment as a USY group. That certainly didn't earn me happy acceptance by my peers!!

Another for instance: a community (Jewish community) panel discussion was to occur. The subject: why our youth is not going to shul. Who was on the panel: The three local Rabbi's: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, the two youth group presidents: Conservative, Reform, The thre shul presidents, plus two teachers (in the public school system).
The panel commenced. Each person on the panel put forth his/her "theory" about the reasons why the youth were not attending services in shul. Now, a word about me: I went to shul EVERY Friday night and most Saturday mornings. I was actively involved in my shuls' youth group, and I participated often in community wide Jewish events. I knew almost all the Jews in my community and if I did not know them personally, I knew who they were. Each of the Rabbi's spoke in politically correct and diplomatic terms. I did not expect to hear a real theory from any of them. Each of the other members of the panel postulated all sorts of stupid reasons. After each member of the panel had their say, the discussion was opened to the public in attendance. My hand shot up. I could not WAIT to speak. Finally, I was called on. I stood, took a deep breath and spoke. And here is what I said:

"Why do the youth (meaning my peers) not come to shul to pray? Well, let me tell you: it is NOT because services are boring. It is not because services are only for old men. It is because YOU (and I am not including the Rabbi's on the panel) do not come! Why should your children come if YOU do not come? Listen, I come to shul every Friday night and I am here most Shabbat mornings. Where are you, Mr. President of my shul? I never see you. And you, Mr. President of my USY-- I never see YOU. What right have you to sit there and pass judgement on us, on the youth when you yourselves do not come to shul? And you, Mr. Teacher and Mrs. Teacher? Do you know, I had NO IDEA either of you were Jewish? I see you in school but I have NEVER seen either of you at any Jewish community event! I think it is extremely hypocritical of you to sit there and discuss reasons why the youth do not attend shul. Cliche as it may sound, children DO learn what they live. My parents come to shul, therefore I come to shul. That;s all I have to say..."

And then I sat down. Well....chaos erupted. Everyone was shouting, everyone yelling -- they had to terminate the discussion. When I arrived home that night our phone was ringing off the hook. People calling my parents to exclaim about how I was so strong in my beliefs!!

It was fun!!! I sort of wish I could do stuff like that again. Kids can get away with what adults cannot.

Layla Tov.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Kitah Aleph

So, now I was in First Grade, in a "normal" class. Was it the best option for me? I don't know. I was seated in the front and the teacher was told to always look at me when speaking to me. She had to be facing me when speaking to the class. Did she hold to that? My memory says no.

Several years ago, I was having a discussion with my mom about something, I do not remember exactly what but the subject of my hearing and being in school must have come up. And, my mom made the statement that I used to turn my hearing aids off in school when I did not want to hear the teacher! I was so shocked by that. I told her that I NEVER did that. Apparently, my teacher must have had difficulty reaching me. I know now, that hearing is not a passive activity for me. It MUST be active. Active listening is tiring. When one does not hear, it is easy to "tune out" the world and go off into lala land. I can imagine now, the teacher calling my name and me not responding. She must have assumed I had turned my hearing aids off, though why she would assume this I have no idea. It is possible too that the batteries were dying or dead -- and I may not have been aware. Awareness of these kinds of things came slowly to me. My teacher must have told my mom that I turned off my hearing aids. And my mom must have believed her. In retrospect, I feel betrayed - my mom was a traitor. She believed the teacher!!!

Initially, I did well in school but quickly fell behind. Quite honestly, I barely remember ever bringing homework home to do. I think I simply missed out on the instructions. My grades would suffer. First grade was not so bad. It was in later grades that my lack of academic success became more noticeable.

Socially, I was an outcast. I was needy, loud, and probably seemed bossy. I must have been socially inappropriate. I missed all the nuances of socializing, I could not overhear things, I did not learn the rumors, or the whispered communications. I could not hear someone calling me from a distance. If I was not quick enough to respond to another kid calling me or asking me to do something, I must have appeared dumb, retarded, slow.

I was teased. Called names. My mom tried to help me. She told me that STUPID ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never harm me." To that I say BULLSHIT. Language is very powerful. Names can hurt. Names can stick. Names can affect a persons self esteem.

Ok, enough ranting. I have to go now. I will continue with my story at a later date.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Bereishit, in the beginning. I was born on September 11, 1959, in Kingston, NY. Kingston was the original capital of New York State. September 11, in 1959 had no meaning to anyone other than it was just another date in the year. It gained infamy years later, when the Twin Towers were taken down by Homicide Bombers.

My parents, of course were overjoyed at my arrival. My father had never seen such a small baby and he was worried. He said my tushy was so tiny. He shouldn't have worried so much -- I have WAY more than made up for that now!

Life was basically uneventful for me. Until I was nearly four years old. It was then my mother realized that my speech was not improving as it should have been and she noticed that I did not seem to hear her if I was in another room or if she was behind me. She must have been scared. She took me to several doctors. The doctors pronounced me healthy, nothing was wrong with me. She thought she must be a neurotic mother. She wondered what was she doing to me, was she going to make me crazy? Was she a crazy mother?

But my mother's intuition that something was wrong was too strong. She took me to see a specialist. His name was Dr. John K. Duffy. He was actually a rather well known doctor and he did many wonderful things. I came to love him. He diagnosed me correctly and referred us to the CP (Cerebral Palsy) Center in Kingston, NY. Back then the CP center (now known as the Community Rehabilitation Center) was just a hole in the wall in a building mostly occupied by the Kingston Police Department. At the CP center I was fitted for my first pair of hearing aids, bulky behind the ear hearing aids by Beltone. (Note: the link to the picture is just an approximation of what I had. The hearing aid in the picture is slimmer and shorter than what I had -- and I was just four years old when I had them!)

I actually have no memory of being fitted for hearing aids. I do not remember the first time I had them put on me. And I never really realized that, or thought about it, until I read Michael Chorost's book, "Rebuilt". In his book he describes his first time wearing hearing aids: he does not remember it. And he thought, as I do as well, that one would think that a person having existed with the absence of sound, that when one finally does hear sound that it would be as if suddenly the light went on. It should have been a memorable moment in his life, in my life -- but it was not. Neither of us have any memory of this.

To be sure, I do remember the audiological evaluations, the bulky headphones I was to wear during testing, the soundproof rooms, the colored blocks I was supposed to hold up whenever I heard a sound, repeating words and phrases for the audiologist. My audiologist was also my speech therapist. Her name was Wanda Lee. Wanda was so good to me. I remember her as a round soft overweight woman, who was alway smiling, always warm and friendly to me. Under the supervision of Dr. Duffy she provided for me speech therapy using ITA (Initial Teaching Alphabet).

In the beginning I went 5 days a week for a year for speech therapy. The following year, I went four days a week for a year, and the following year I went three days a week, and so on until after five years, I was "finished". By then I was just finishing third grade. Going to the CP center exposed me to other children with other kinds of disabilities, mostly motor disabilities. But I never felt I was one of them. To me, they were the oddities, and I was normal.

When I entered Kindergarten, it was thought that I should not be placed in the reading program because it was feared that it would confuse me because I was learning to both read and speak using ITA. When my Kindergarten year was over, the school wanted to place me in a special education class. But my parents consulted with Dr. Duffy about it and he said absolutely NOT. He wanted me in the regular classes. There was nothing wrong with my intelligence. And so, I was placed in regular classes in a public school.

Now, this was only possible because it was 1964. Had it been many years later, my parents would have had to become my advocates, hire a lawyer and fight the school system to "allow" me to be "mainstreamed". The term mainstream, while it certainly existed in 1964, did not have the charged meaning it now has when referring to students who have any kind of disability. In this instance, I actually benefitted from the fact that schools still did not know enough about my kind of disability to have in place a "special" program. Michael Chorost did not have that experience. He went to a school for the Deaf and when he was in a public school he was in a special class.

Upon entering first grade, the teachers did not know what my reading ability was. So, they stuck me in the slowest, lowest level reading group. After class that day it was obvious that was not appropriate for me so they moved me up a level the next day. The next day it was clear that even that was not appropriate for me so they moved me up a level the following day. This repeated it self again the next day until I was finally placed in the high honors reading group. Their initial placement of me is certainly indicative of their assumed correlation between deafness and intelligence! In fact, I exceeded all the other readers in the high honors group and thus was sent downstairs to my former kindergarten class to read a story to the children. My former kindergarten teacher was so moved that she called my mother later and tearfully told her that she never expected me to be able to do that!

(More later...)

Barucha Haba'ah

I am not so sure about this blog. Not sure I will keep it up. I am SO busy with my life. But I will give this a game try.


Here I am.

47 years old. 48 on September 11...yah, great date. (WHY did they have to do that on my birthday? WHY did they do it at all???)

Ok -- let's see. I am writing this because I decided, only about a week ago, that I should seriously look into the possiblity of getting a cochlear implant. I knew NOTHING about CI as they are referred to by those who use them. I did not even know they were called CI.

I am writing this both for myself, and for others. I am not so sure my life is so interesting to others -- I would like to think so, but that's just ego. I am not a particularly good writer, but I am fluent in English so at least what I write will be readable.

To the beginning - with a new post. Read "In the beginning..."